A YOUNG man who kidnapped three Wigan special needs schoolboys has been jailed.
Police say homeless Gerard Hayward has left his 11-year-old victims deeply distressed.
The boys had to sleep overnight in an allotment greenhouse with the kidnapper during the ordeal.
Hayward abused the trust of the family of one of the victims after they took pity on him to put a roof over his head.
A Liverpool Crown Court judge gave him three two-year jail terms to run concurrently, after he admitted three counts of child abduction. A restraining order was made against the 23-year-old approaching any of his victims before their 18th birthdays.
The frantic family of one of the youngsters involved – who cannot be named for legal reasons – contacted the Wigan Evening Post late last November appealing for information about his whereabouts after he vanished from school in Platt Bridge.
By the time the paper went to press, he and his fellow 11-year-olds had been found by police in Salford in the company of Hayward.
It emerged he had been with them all the time – despite the family of one of the boys, who had taken Hayward in, regularly ringing him for news and him claiming he knew nothing.
It emerged that, on leaving Platt Bridge, the quartet had taken a number of train journeys and ended dossed down for the night in an allotment they had come across.
The court heard the boys appeared not to have been abused, or otherwise physically maltreated.
It was only pure chance there happened to a large police presence in the Salford area that day for a political rally.
But once officers stopped the group and checked names, it emerged that the boys had been reported missing.
They were soon tearfully reunited with their families.
Under questioning, Hayward claimed he was protecting the boys, and had gone with them as an escort after discovering they had decided to run away of their own volition.
Police say the boys had been reported missing before, but never before had they gone overnight, nor ended up so far from home.
Det Constable Sarah Torrence from Wigan Police’s child protection unit said: “We may never know what Hayward’s motives were, but what he did put three families through horrendous stress and worry.
“One of the boys’ families had taken him in when he was homeless, and he abused their trust by abducting the youngster.
“When they rang him, and he had the opportunity to reassure them, he denied knowing where the boys were, even though they were with him all the time.
“We can only be grateful that they were found relatively quickly and came to no physical harm.
“But one of the boys was particularly upset by what happened, and all of them have been affected in some way.”